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on March 4, 2004
I've never written a review before, but I have enjoyed browsing reader's comments on books I read or teach from. While reading the review that claims this new book to be a "dumbing down" of The Elegant Universe, and to have "no new material", I felt I had to set the record straight. For the record: I teach Physics for Poets class in a local community college, and use The Elegant Universe as one of our books. Next year I will add Fabric of the Cosmos to the syllabus since it has at least 80% new material, and the overlap with The Elegant Universe is done in a new way that I have not seen in any other book, The Elegant Universe or otherwise. The reviewer says that "200 pages are spent reviewing Newton and Einstein" which is a factual error. It is just over 50 pages, and a fascinating new angle known as Mach's principle is used.
For the reviewer to say that "spooky action at a distance" is in Elegant, is also a factual error. He must be thinking of another book. This (huge) subject, entanglement, was not covered in the Elegant Universe as I know for sure, since in the past I have had to assign other books for these ideas. I might add that the discussion of entanglement in Fabric goes far ahead of any other since it proves Bell's theorem, without math! I didn't think that was possible! The main theme of The Arrow of Time which runs through Fabric, is not touched on at all in Elegant, nor are the questions of whether space and time are real or just ideas.
If someone is looking for a direct sequel to Elegent, this is not that book. Fabric is a monumental work of its own and should be read as such.
For other suggested readings: Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps, Janna Levin's How the Universe Got its Spots.
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on March 16, 2004
I loved The Elegant Universe.
I loved The Fabric of the Cosmos even more.
In showing the state of the art of unified theories, The Elegant Universe explained alot of physics with unsurpassed clarity. Yet, there were discoveries I had read something about in other books that The Elegant Universe did not discuss, and I longed for Brian Greene to bring his powers of explanation to these subjects too. (I even wrote him an email saying so).
The Fabric of the Cosmos answers my longing in abundance.
This book not only covers relativity but also the long debate about Mach's principle and what "space" means. It covers quantum mechanics, but goes further by taking on the debate regarding observers and measurment, and provides the clearest, most understandable discussion of quantum entanglement (the "EPR paradox) that I have ever seen in print or any other format. The chapters on cosmology are equally great, and the final sections bring the work on unification and string theory right up to the moment.
I can't say this is an easy book, perhaps a little easier than
The Elegant Universe, but definitely a challenge. It is worth it. By the end, the poetry of the universe is yours to behold.
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on March 4, 2004
I happened by chance on The Elegant Universe two years ago during one of my "learn the newest" in physics stretches. I'd read many popularizations to that point, but none could hold a candle to The Elegant Universe. The chapters on relativity and quantum mechanics were, arguably, the clearest treatment
of these subjects ever written, and that really says something since this subject has been written about endlessly. I knew little about string theory at the time but found Greene's encapsulation of
the theory to be among the best popular science writing I've read.
So I was so happy when I saw he had a new book
out. Having now finished it, I am even happier. It is
a phenomenal successor to The Elegant Universe; in some ways
I liked it even better.
Greene's crystal clear and never
a dull moment prose are out in force, with his uncanny ability to anticipate the questions the reader (or at least
this reader) will have regarding material one page, and answer them on the next. There were so many times I asked myself "what about this"? only to find it answered a paragraph later.
The material is also carefully arranged so that you can read it along three different strands, corresponding to different levels of background/interest. In the first strand, you can read the book, skipping the sections which Greene has indicated to be more difficult. In the second strand, you can read all sections, as I did, gaining an even greater appreciation of the ideas and related tricky points. In the third strand you can also read the endnotes which contain very detailed versions of the material covered in the main book, sometimes making use of equations.
What I especially liked about The Fabric of the Cosmos, was the choice of subjects. Space and time are less esoteric
than string theory, and the theme of discussing breakthroughs
not just for the sake of science but, of equal importance, to assess their relevance
for our intuition about reality, was both fresh and thrilling.
The Fabric of the Cosmos covers an astonishing amount of new material, with the same in-a-class-by-itself
level of writing of The Elegant Universe. When you finish, the world looks different. How many books can you say that about? For me, not many.
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on February 21, 2005
As someone who has taught high school and college level physics for close to 30 years, I can say with some degree of experience that this is, hands down, the clearest, most informative, and most exciting book on physics I've ever had the pleasure to encounter. About 5 years ago I would have given almost as high accolades to Green's first book, Elegant Universe. Now, however, Fabric of the Cosmos, in my opinion, has jumped ahead.

Fabric of the Cosmos is very far from being a simplified version of The Elegant Universe, as someone in this bulletin board has said. Instead, Fabric of the Cosmos is so disarmingly clear and so cleverly crafted in its use of analogy and argument, that it does indeed present an easier read than The Elegant Universe. But the material covered in Fabric of the Cosmos is very different from Elegant, and most notably, the text dives head first into some of the trickiest, most absorbing, and far-reaching issues that physicists have struggled with for a very long time. Many of these difficult questions--is space real? what is the nature of quantum entanglement? why does time seem to go in a fixed direction? what happened at the very moment of creation? can string theory be tested? -- are avoided by mainstream physicists and too difficult to be taken on by most science journalists in anything but a superficial treatment. The highly crafted writing in this book, however, cuts through the forrest of complexity with such ease, that the reader who is not already well versed in physics, does not realize the gift he or she is given by a presentation that is clearer than I would have ever thought possible.

In fact, the other day I was speaking with a physics professor colleague who has worked and lectured on some of the topics in this book for many years, and even he had to admit that he was going to use a number of Green's explanations in future lectures.

I was also impressed that this book has no hype. If something is not fully understood, the book makes this clear; if there are competing points of view on something, the controversy is explored, not buried. And rather than having superstring theory as its main goal (as in Elegant Universe), here the structure of space and time is the main goal, something less speculative and in many ways more mind bending.

I'd give it 10 stars if that were an option.
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on March 3, 2004
This is a fantastic discussion of the tough questions of physics and a meditation on their meaning for our take on reality. It is not a rewriting or dumbingdown of The Elegant Universe, as one reviewer has claimed. (Are we reading the same book?) After preparing things with an overview of relativity (done in a fresh way by focusing on "Mach's principle") and quantum mechanics, the book takes on realms not touched in The Elegant Universe. The discussion of entanglement is both entertaining and in-depth, and I can say the same for the question of where the arrow time comes from (answer: the big bang), where our sense that time flows comes from (answer: an illusion), how the universe may have begun (answer: with a big bang from inflation driven by a higgs field) and what it means for two objects to be separated by space (answer: sometimes not much, because of quantum mechanics). The treatment of string theory is less involved than in The Elegant Universe, a sensible thing since string theory's role in this book is to provide a more complete cosmological theory and to suggest what the microscopic particles makeing up space and time are.
The one drawback for some people may be that this book takes on the issues that many physicists choose not to look at (such as quantum measurement problem) because they don't change predictions. If you want to know what physics means for our world, and WHY physics is important beyond explaining experiments, then these treatments are essential, and great
reading too.
This book that is unsurpassed in its depth
and readability.
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on February 18, 2004
I just sat down to write a glowing review of Brian Greene's new book, and was frankly shocked to see the few, but inaccurate, reviews among the many positive ones.
I am a high school science teacher and, among other books, have been using Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe in class for a few years, so I know it extremely well (the students love it--the book has even inspired a couple of our students to study physics in college). I just devoured The Fabric of the Cosmos, so I now know it well too. It is a fresh, original, highly creative presentation of a tremendous amount of material, most of which is not covered in The Elegant Universe. To say otherwise is wrong. The retired physics professor who sent in a review a few days ago said it really well: in this book, Brian Green tackles the "big" and most puzzling discoveries that were not part of his first book.
For example, I've been searching for years for an understandable and complete explanation of the Einstein-Rosen-Podolski effect (if you don't know what this is, you are in for a treat when you read the book). The Fabric of the Cosmos finally gives one. I've read many attempts in previous books (and articles too), but no explanation I've ever read comes anywhere near the clarity and fullness of the one given in The Fabric of the Cosmos. After years of people trying to explain this effect in layman's terms, this book finally succeeds.
The chapters that talk about whether time flows and why it has a direction, whether space and time should be thought of as physical substances, and experiments on quantum time, are equally lucid and entertaining, as are the chapters on recent advances in cosmology, Superstring theory, teleportation, and even the charming discussion of speculations on time travel. (None of this was in The Elegant Universe. I know this for a fact, having read The Elegant Universe with my class every year for three straight years.)
In summary, this is a true marvel of science explication. I am now adding it to readings for my class. I highly recommend it.
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on February 16, 2004
This book answers questions that I never even knew enough to ask. It broadens the mind and makes physics and the mysteries of the universe accessible, even to me, a nonscientist. I'd never heard about quantum entanglement (distant things influencing each other without anything travelling between them) and the discussion was so thrilling that that chapter alone was worth the price of the book. There is so much here, cosmology, M theory, universes on branes but the author pulls it all together in a totally coherent and entertaining way. Physics is developing rapidly and this book provides a foundation for understanding today's breakthroughs. It's a great read.
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VINE VOICEon April 7, 2004
No one could read the first chapter and not finish this book! I savored every page of it from start to finish. Brian Greene has a unique combination of talent that you JUST DON'T SEE in such an outstanding scientific mind. 1) He can write! 2) He is clearly one of the top physicists in the field of Superstring/M-Theory. 3) He is a born teacher. 4) Did I mention he can write? Through brilliant use of analogy, Greene makes the most mind boggling concepts easy to grasp. This is a book for lay people, as evidenced by the absence of equations in the text...they are included in the notes section at the end along with more robust theoretical details. The book takes you through the usual history of quantum physics and cosmology, as it must do to provide the background necessary to understand where we are now. He moves from the earlier understandings to the most current developments in a manner that makes very difficult subjects accessible to everyday people. The question of why the arrow of times moves relentlessly forward is answered in this book, and that is no mean accomplishment. In fact, the infusion of knowledge is so gentle that after 500 pages I was amazed at how much was covered and even more amazed that I understood it. The subject matter itself is fascinating. Greene's writing ability makes it enjoyable at the same time. His injection of humor put the icing on the cake. A small example: "...Ordinary experience confronts us with two types of phenomena: those that have a clearly delineated beginning, middle, and end...and those that are cyclic, happening over and over again (the changing seasons, the rising and setting of the sun, Larry King's weddings)." Now some might find his highly imaginative analogies can get a bit corny, but I saw them as brilliant--and they do the job of illuminating complex ideas. I really can't recommend this book highly enough to those who want to learn! One last thing...you can read the whole book without consulting the notes at the end. This is great for continuity and readability. Just don't fail to read the "Notes" section when you finish. It serves as a brief refresher to cement the new ideas into your head, and expands on the more complicated concepts. Whatever happened to the 10-star ratings? 5 stars are not enough!
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on January 17, 2005
Brian Greene's latest (equation-less) book "The Fabric of The Cosmos", addresses why spacetime is not simply a metric but a real "something", and the overarching question, "Just what is reality?" My take is that everyone should read this book!!

Part I contains a magnificent overview of the development of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. This is both fully understandable to the layman and has fascinating new angles - new insights - that are spellbinding to this professional physicist (new views/descriptions of acceleration and gravity, Bell/Aspect vs. EPR, possible conflicts between Relativity and QM on large scales [not just quantum fluctuations at the Plank length], etc.).

Part II (what's time?) is absolutely fascinating! Greene's whole discussion of what time might be, its apparent "flow" as experienced by us, and his discussion of statistical mechanics and entropy and their insufficiency to define a classical "arrow of time" ("flowing" from past to future), absent something like the Big Bang, are super -AND CLEAR TO THE GENERAL READERSHIP. I loved his review of the whole business of quantum theory and reality, e.g., the so-called "delayed choice" and "quantum eraser" experiments, the various attempts to come up with some glimmer of understanding of "the measurement problem" (technically, the unpredictable collapse of the wavefunction by another system, e,g., a macroscopic instrument still composed of underlying quantum states) and progress on the proposition of "decoherence".

For non-cosmologists, Part III ain't for sissies but does have some wonderful word pictures, mainly towards the beginning and end, which are extremely worthwhile if one doesn't get too bogged down in the middle with unified quantum field theories and elementary particle physics. Towards the beginning of Part III is a terrific discussion of the curvature(s) of space, and towards the end are many fresh insights on repulsive gravity, the inflation field, dark matter and energy, wrinkles in the cosmic-ray background, etc. The real gem is Greene's description of the inflationary (vs. "standard") Big Bang model, with a great summary of our current understanding - and the potential limitation of our further understanding - of how this universe could have started in the first place. (For the serious student, I would note that Greene's enthusiastic description of how inflation impacts the problem of "fine tuning" is perhaps overstated. One important aspect of fine tuning is greatly relaxed, but there are many others that are not affected.)

I found Part IV (superstring theory) of Greene's book surprisingly easy going, especially re. the extra space dimensions, M-Theory, and Branes. It provides a far superior view of the "big picture" than is found in his earlier, more detailed and technical book on superstrings, "The Elegant Universe" (1999). I should add a note here for those who have not yet read books like The Elegant Universe. While string/M-theory provides a conceptual framework for reconciling quantum mechanics and general relativity (each being, individually, solidly proven theories but which don't work together), and therefore affords in principle some way to mathematically describe the origin and elemental constituents of spacetime, it is still a long, long way from being subject to experimental verification, due both to current inadequacies of the theory and to the lack of experimental equipment to conduct relevant experiments.

Part V, the final chapters, includes a summary of some future experiments that might confirm some of the stranger aspects of the theoretical constructs, some quantum teleportation phenomena (and their unlikelihood of being extended to macroscopic objects), time travel (including Kip Thorne's version of wormholes, which are also unlikely), and a final chapter described next. I particularly enjoyed Greene's introductory discussion of time travel where he explains a resolution of the common apparent paradoxes in a person's traveling backwards in time (e.g. to kill his parents before he was born) using only classical spacetime, i.e., without resorting to any quantum phenomena (pp. 451-455). The final chapter is titled "The Future of an Allusion" and deals with probable future changes to our ideas about spacetime. These concepts are very exotic and pertain to both the macroscopic and microscopic properties of spacetime. An example of the former and, of those presented, Greene's favorite, is one in which our everyday universe is a holographic projection of some surface around us upon which the "real" events are happening. The final pages of the book contain this comment: "...regardless of future discoveries, space and time will continue to frame our individual experience; space and time, as far as everyday life goes, are here to stay. What will continue to change, and likely change drastically, is our understanding of the framework they provide - the arena, that is, of experimental reality. After centuries of thought, we still can only portray space and time as the most familiar of strangers. They unabashedly wend their way through our lives, but adroitly conceal their fundamental makeup from the very perceptions they so fully inform and influence."

I would grade the drawings/illustrations in "The Fabric of The Universe" as top-notch aids to understanding. (I once complained that the drawings in a related general readership book by Stephen Hawking, "The Universe in A Nutshell" (2001), appearing after his best-selling "A Brief History of Time" (1998), were the greatest obstacles to understanding the book!)

Finally, I would note that an interesting step upwards in generalizing Greene's question, "what is reality?", can be found in the three physics chapters (Chapters 4-6) of another excellent (and easier) book, "The Case for a Creator" by Lee Strobel (2004). There, the interpretation of many of the phenomena described by Greene is extended to metaphysics - metaphysics no longer being a stranger to science (a major paradigm shift sparked by scientific advances in the last two decades). A critical question in theism, "did the universe have a beginning?", is examined vis-à-vis concepts including Hawking's imaginary-time (no-boundary) proposal, Guth's inflation theory, and oscillating universes. Superb examples are given of "fine tuning" (for which hard data have been produced since the 1980s) and its arguments for "Intelligent Design" vs. multiple universes. (As atheist Nobel Laureate in Physics Stephen Weinberg said at one conference, these are the only two choices.) Instead of simply hypothesizing enough alternate universes (essentially infinite) to offset fine tuning, the dependence of a multiverse on superstring theory and inflationary cosmology is examined, including cyclical universes with Brane collisions.

Martin Fricke, Ph.D.

Del Mar, CA

1/17/2005
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on September 4, 2005
I just sat down to write a glowing review of Brian Greene's new book, and was frankly shocked to see the few, but inaccurate, reviews among the many positive ones.

I am a high school science teacher and, among other books, have been using Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe in class for a few years, so I know it extremely well (the students love it--the book has even inspired a couple of our students to study physics in college). I just devoured The Fabric of the Cosmos, so I now know it well too. It is a fresh, original, highly creative presentation of a tremendous amount of material, most of which is not covered in The Elegant Universe. To say otherwise is wrong. The retired physics professor who sent in a review a few days ago said it really well: in this book, Brian Green tackles the "big" and most puzzling discoveries that were not part of his first book.

For example, I've been searching for years for an understandable and complete explanation of the Einstein-Rosen-Podolski effect (if you don't know what this is, you are in for a treat when you read the book). The Fabric of the Cosmos finally gives one. I've read many attempts in previous books (and articles too), but no explanation I've ever read comes anywhere near the clarity and fullness of the one given in The Fabric of the Cosmos. After years of people trying to explain this effect in layman's terms, this book finally succeeds.

The chapters that talk about whether time flows and why it has a direction, whether space and time should be thought of as physical substances, and experiments on quantum time, are equally lucid and entertaining, as are the chapters on recent advances in cosmology, Superstring theory, teleportation, and even the charming discussion of speculations on time travel. (None of this was in The Elegant Universe. I know this for a fact, having read The Elegant Universe with my class every year for three straight years.)

In summary, this is a true marvel of science explication. I am now adding it to readings for my class. I highly recommend it.
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